Sheriff, State Homeland Security sound alarm on northern border crisis

Feb. 17—PLATTSBURGH — The boogeyman could be under a bed, in a closet, or as Clinton County Sheriff David Favro says, coming across New York's northern border.

"The boogeyman is something that most adults feared when they were younger ... Everyone had a different explanation and a different description (of what he looked like)," Favro said, alluding to the age-old folklore about a ghost.

"Was he under your bed? Was he in your closet? Was he in your toy box? You just didn't know, but you really had a feeling it was there. It's a lot like what we're dealing with right now — it's an unknown — opening up our borders and ... allowing millions of people from other countries (in)."


While Favro believes most of the people from other countries coming to the United States are "wonderful people" who want to be here for the right reasons, his concerns lie within the processing of these individuals and lack thereof.

Favro specifically balked at any notion that the border crisis facing the country now is a "new look Ellis Island."

He said that's an interesting twist on the situation he has heard from some politicians.

"I wasn't there ... but when I read the books on what took place in Ellis Island, it was people coming in primarily, on boats across a narrow waterway, and they had to come to the island and they were registered, they were documented, they did a physical exam, there was a doctor making sure they weren't carrying deadly illnesses into the United States that would kill off thousands, if not a million people," he said.

"We took care of those things. We dealt with those things and then we welcomed them in ... Now, we're just opening the doors, and I've heard again, from some politicians, that 'all these people are vetted.' No, they're not; I'm telling you right now, no, they're not."

This has left the door open for potentially dangerous individuals to enter Clinton County, he said.


The northern border's Swanton Sector, where "80% of the illegal apprehensions into the United States are made," Favro said, faces a challenge of being among the sectors with the smallest percentage of "boots on the ground" employees. This sector's coverage area includes Clinton County.

"So that's something, hopefully, that our federal government takes a look at and makes a big adjustment," Favro said.

In the meantime, programs like Operation Stonegarden give the county federal funding to pay deputies overtime to go up on the northern border and patrol it, usually with a member of the Border Patrol.

"So that we can be a force multiplier for them to search for some of these people that are coming through," the sheriff said.

Fortunately, Favro said, most of the people coming across the Swanton Sector and being apprehended in Clinton County right now, often in Champlain or nearby Mooers, aren't attempting to stay here. Rather, they are trying to get to family who live elsewhere in the state.

Favro said when individuals are apprehended in these situations, they are given guidance to the bus station and will usually leave the county.

This situation is more ideal for Clinton County, whose Social Services Department would be strained — mainly for housing — otherwise.


Despite most immigrants leaving, almost as soon as they step foot here locally, Favro still worries about the people who are not being apprehended, either by border patrol agents or deputies from the sheriff's department, and are sneaking in without officials knowing.

"Who else and what else is coming across that border that we're not catching?" Favro said, using cartel members as a prime example.

"Last year alone, the cartel reportedly made over $310 billion in revenue on arms, drugs, sex smuggling, human smuggling. Who's paying for all that? Mostly U.S. customers."

Favro said he has seen video evidence of the cartel mixing deadly amounts of fentanyl in with different types of drugs, pills and capsules in drug labs across the country, leading to "instant death" for anyone who consumes those drugs.

"Instant death at a very high rate and at a very high cost to the United States of America," he said.

"That's an issue that we need to get under control and the only way we're going to do it is how is it getting in here? Who is bringing it in here? We know the cartels are involved in it. We know the cartels are involved in human smuggling. The problem is: are any of them coming across the northern border? That unknown answer — where is the boogeyman hiding? — that's what we have to figure out."

However, the lack of vetting for those coming into the country illegally has put the U.S. in a precarious position.

Favro made comparisons between the ongoing border crisis across the country and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With 9/11, he said the U.S. was exploited for its kindness in providing opportunities and trust to non-citizens very easily and it backfired.

The same could possibly be said for the border crisis now as Favro said some of the individuals being apprehended lately have made him question their intentions.

"We're starting to see them now, some of them with body armor, some of them with night vision, some of them with thermal imaging, they're starting to really catch on," he said. "Which really begs the question, are they just coming over here to get help, so that somebody will apprehend them to guide them to a better place? Or are they coming over for more nefarious reasons to set up criminal activities?"

"That's something that sadly, we may not know until it's right upon us."


New York's Homeland Security Commissioner Jackie Bray shares the same concerns as Favro when it comes to transnational criminal organizations — like the cartel and the mob in Canada — sending people or drugs across the state's northern border.

"We've seen this really intense rise in the number of people who are coming across our border and not through our ports of entry," she said.

"But the most troubling part of that is the smuggling aspects, because what I've learned is ... we're not seeing large numbers of people come and stay here like we are in New York City. I think what we need, and I think we've committed to and have increased resources for, a coordinated law enforcement response to stop and to ... really interdict the smuggling organizations here."

She said it's an important situation that the state is not ignoring.

"There is a smuggling ... and trafficking of guns and drugs and people that is incredibly dangerous and needs a robust law enforcement response and is getting it," Bray said.

"The work that the State Police has done, both with Border Patrol and local law enforcement and our partners in Canada, is starting to chip away at the movement of guns and drugs and that's really important that's happening ... and so in that context, I totally understand what's happening on the northern border," she continued.

"What it demands of us is to make sure that we're attacking the criminal organizations that are feeding it and fueling it and frankly, putting both New Yorkers and people, simply trying to come and work and make a better life for their family, at risk because of the trafficking."


She said the state has been allocating resources to this area to focus on disrupting the smuggling, but they do not have the power to allocate more border patrol officers, which is the biggest need to fight Northern New York's border crisis.

"The only people that can act to put more Border Patrol agents on that border is Congress, and man do I wish that wasn't true," she said.

Bray said the border crisis facing the country, particularly Clinton County, could have gotten some much needed help in the last proposed border bill, which failed in congress recently.

"That bill would have increased border patrol; it would have increased detention; it would have reduced the time between when someone crosses our border and when their asylum case gets ... an interim determination, allowing us to remove people faster; and it would have meant real money, both in direct aid to the state of New York and in deferred costs," she said.

Bray put the blame on the Republican Party for the bill's failure.

"Gov. (Kathy) Hochul says to me all the time, 'my number one job is to keep New Yorkers safe.' My number one job is to help her keep New Yorkers safe," she said.

"She's going to do that job. I'm going to do that job, but what the Republicans did in Washington ... makes it a heck of a lot harder. That was a bipartisan bill that got negotiated, with really strong border security, that New Yorkers need and we're not going to get because of politics within the Republican Party."


Twitter: CarlySNewton